So many choices—that’s life these days.
But if you’re a writer, well, what are your choices for the manuscript that’s been woefully sitting on your desk for months? Should you keep querying after you’ve already sent it out to 100 literary agents and all the small presses you could track down? Or, do you say, ‘Screw this waiting!’ and make it happen on your own by self-publishing it as an e-book? It’s a tough choice—because many writers still view self-publishing as the equivalent to giving up.
“I know I was conditioned for a long time to think about traditionally published books as ‘real books’ and self-published books as exercises in vanity or desperation by those who just couldn’t hack it,” says Jeff Deck, an author and editor who has experienced both the traditional and self-publishing routes.
For writers like Deck who have seen both sides of the publishing world (lucky them), self-publishing has become a very realistic and effective option—either as a stop on the way to traditional publishing (like The Martian and yes, even Fifty Shades of Grey) or as a way to finally get your book out there (and move on to the next one!) when it just isn’t clicking with the big publishing houses. But getting it out there, no matter what, is the main point. Otherwise, what are you writing for?
Author and poet Nancy Slavin was told by a well-known agent that “she could have sold my novel midlist five years prior to when I’d queried her, but the game had changed so much, she felt she couldn’t sell that novel by the time she’d received it.” So Slavin ended up self-publishing her first book both as an e-book and in print, an exhausting effort especially in terms of marketing—but highly rewarding.
“Once I let that book out into the world, great things happened. I wrote my next book in a creative flash, and I got my agent because I put my own book out there, but I did all the legwork to get my book out there,” Slavin says.
For her second novel, Slavin has an agent but is already prepared to self-publish again if enough time goes by without a bite from a publishing house—and she knows her agent will probably suggest the same.
Author, editor and writing teacher Jordan Rosenfeld has published both fiction and non-fiction using various approaches, including hybrid publishing models. For her next novel, Rosenfeld is going with Booktrope, which features a gatekeeper approach and does not require any financial investment from the author.
With the Booktrope model, the writer must first be accepted, like with a traditional publisher, and then has to pitch and attract a team from the members, including a book manager, editorial team, a cover designer and marketing person.
Because the team gets paid a percentage of your book sales, “each team is motivated to make your book a success. I think it’s a powerful, realistic model to have a whole team working on behalf of the life of one author–it creates a whole new level of motivation,” Rosenfeld says.
Not surprisingly, the financial aspect can change everything. While self-publishing usually means you invest your own money (and huge portions of time and energy) in marketing and self-promotion, you also get to keep a much larger percent of the profits. Not necessarily so with the traditional publishers. Deck discovered that Random House was going to keep 85 percent of the profits for every copy of his non-fiction book that sold—and that was with a hardcover price of $24 and $14 for the digital version.
“Sure, it was nice to think that I might have written something worth 24 bucks a pop. But how many people are willing to spend that much on a book by a couple of unknown authors? The list price was out of my hands. So was any hope to put it on sale, at least through my own initiative,” Deck says.
So for now, Deck prefers to self-publish his sci-fi novel to control not only the price of his book, but also for overall creative control. And if this self-publishing effort fails, “I’ll know it’s due to my own deficiencies, rather than, say, failing to please a gatekeeper.”
Slavin puts the whole publishing dilemma into perspective: “At least with self-publishing, what you expect in sales–once you determine printing and marketing costs–is what you’re going to get.”
Regardless of what publishing method you pursue, don’t hurry your efforts. Take the time you need to produce the highest quality book you can. Write well–and it will sell.